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The value of teaching critical thinking when teaching translation

Since the world today is getting smaller and smaller, that is people travel more often than ever before, have business with partners from other countries etc, the importance of knowing a foreign language cannot be overestimated. On the one hand, the majority of people seem to understand that. They buy CDs, hire tutors, go online – all this is done to become more mobile, to be of more value in the eyes of employers, or simply to enable oneself to travel around the world and enjoy other cultures. On the other hand, with millions of people speaking English (the language of today’s Internet and international business), there is still demand for those who can not only speak, but also translate professionally. For those whose work can be relied on when important things are at stake. It may sound poetic, but think about it. Who would you turn to when negotiating a million-dollar contract with a foreign partner? When buying some muchneeded medication that is not produced in your country? These examples can be numerous, but I hope you get the idea. No matter where the world goes, we will always need them – professional translators and interpreters.

These examples also demonstrate that these translators need to be familiar with the subject matter and be able to THINK – analyze, make inferences, recognize and define problems, make valid decisions and find effective solutions, understand logic and logical argument, etc. This ability to think effectively is closely connected with ability to think critically. Critical thinking is something that can be learned, which means it can be taught.

First, let us examine what critical thinking is.

Beyer puts his definition of critical thinking in these terms: "Critical thinking... means making reasoned judgments" (1). Thus a critical thinker uses criteria to judge the quality of something anything, whether it be cooking or the conclusion of a research paper.

According to Richard R. Day (4), “critical thinking is a disciplined manner of thought with which we assess the validity of things such as statements, news stories, arguments, research, etc., including the evaluation of the worth, accuracy, or authenticity of various statements or propositions; this evaluation then leads to a supportable decision or direction for action”.

The NCTE Committee on Critical Thinking and the Language Arts defines critical thinking as "a process which stresses an attitude of suspended judgment, incorporates logical inquiry and problem solving, and leads to an evaluative decision or action" (2).

Tama (8) suggests that "critical thinking is reasonable, reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do".

Lauren Starkey (7) in “Critical thinking skills success in 20 minutes a day” says that “a critical thinker approaches problems and complicated situations aware of his or her thoughts, beliefs, and viewpoints. Then, he or she can direct those thoughts, beliefs, and viewpoints to be more rational and accurate. A critical thinker is willing to explore, question, and search out answers and solutions. These skills not only mean greater success at school and at work, but they are the basis of better decisions and problem solving at home, too”.

Although there are plenty of definitions, generally speaking, to think critically about an issue is to consider that issue from various perspectives, to look at and challenge any possible assumptions that may underlie the issue and to explore its possible alternatives.

Now that we have determined what critical thinking is, we need to think of how it can be incorporated in the process of teaching translation.

A thing to remember is that critical thinking is thinking that assesses itself. When our students need us to tell them how well they are doing, they are not thinking critically. They need to be able to assess themselves, their own progress, strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, it is strongly recommended you and your students work out a self-assessment form that they can use to evaluate themselves. This form should include questions on the material that you have covered (including lexis and understanding the subject matter of a topic), the skills that they are supposed to have acquired, and the thinking skills they have learned (for more information on this, see Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical Thinking Skills. Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. New York: Palgrave MacMillan and Paul, R with Gerald M. Nosich A Model for the National Assessment of Higher Order Thinking http://www.criticalthinking.org /assessment/ a-model-nal-assessment-hot.cfm)

Because self-assessment is significant, it is important to build it into the course and work with it systematically. Virtually everyday, for example, students should be giving (to other students) and receiving (from other students) feedback on the quality of their work (5). Practicing assessing others’ works they will be applying the same standards they need for self-assessment and thus students will feel more confident and experienced assessing their own works. The point is that they should be regularly using intellectual standards in an explicit way. This should be designed into instruction as a regular feature of it.

One of the task that a teacher could give in his/ her critical thinking class is a project requiring students to do a global analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of their own performance in the class overall. But before this project is given the following must have been done:

  1. students have been given, early on, performance profiles (correlated with grades);
  2. students have been given multiple opportunities to assess their own work and that of their peers using the performance profiles;
  3. students have been given a thorough orientation on what is and is not expected in the global self-assessment;
  4. students should be required to support all claims that they make with relevant and representative evidence and reasoning students should understand that if they argue for a higher grade than they deserve, their grade will be lowered.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking worked out some guidelines helpful to students as they work toward developing their reasoning abilities. We find these very useful and strongly suggest teachers give out the guidelines to their students at the very beginning of a course. This is what students need to know:

    • All reasoning has a purpose:
    • take time to state your purpose clearly,
    • distinguish your purpose from related purposes,
    • check periodically to be sure you are still on target,
    • choose significant and realistic purposes.
    • All reasoning is an attempt to figure something out, to settle some questions, to solve some problem:
    • take time to clearly and precisely state the question at issue,
    • express the question in several ways to clarify its meaning and scope,
    • break the question into sub questions,
    • identify if the question has one right answer, is a matter of opinion, or requires reasoning from more than one point of view.
    • All reasoning is based on assumptions:
    • clearly identify your assumptions and determine whether they are justifiable,
    • consider how your assumptions are shaping your point of view.
    • All reasoning is done from some point of view:
    • identify your point of view,
    • seek other points of view and identify their strengths as well as weaknesses,
    • strive to be fair-minded in evaluating all points of view.
    • All reasoning is based on data, information and evidence:
    • restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have,
    • search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it,
    • make sure that all information used is clear, accurate, and relevant to the question at issue,
  • make sure you have gathered suffiquire proficiency in handling the elements of thought, in using appropriate abilities, in apcient information.
    • All reasoning is expressed through, and shaped by, concepts and ideas:
    • identify key concepts and explain them clearly,
    • consider alternative concepts or alternative definitions to concepts,
    • make sure you are using concepts with care and precision.
    • All reasoning contains inferences or interpretations by which we draw conclusions and give meaning to data:
    • infer only what the evidence implies,
    • check inferences for their consistency with each other,
    • identify assumptions which lead you to your inferences .
    • All reasoning leads somewhere or has implications and consequences:
    • trace the implications and consequences that follow from your reasoning,
    • search for negative as well as positive implications,
    • consider all possible consequences. The frameworks of this paper do not al-

low us to speak a lot on the elements and specifics of teaching critical thinking skills, but we would like to point out that critical thinking is universal in terms that it can be incorporated into any school subject. Although the field of teaching critical thinking to students who study translation and interpretation has not yet been developed, there is enough information on critical thinking itself that teachers will find useful and inspiring. With some practice a teacher will see that most of the activities we use in our classroom as EFL/translation instructors can also be easily adjusted to practice thinking skills. Lessons that involve such activities tend to be more interesting and motivating for students; they make students apply their knowledge of the language to real-life like situations, at the same time they feel responsible for what they say or write.

Further on in this work we would like to give examples of activities that can be used for the purpose of developing critical thinking skills.

Writing is a very effective tool for assessing critical thinking. Essay items will replying intellectual standards, and, what is more, it will require integrating all these. As a variation of or in addition to essay tests, one might use short-justification items which would not ask students to write an essay on a topic, but would rather have them choose an answer from a pre-selected multiple-rating list and then justify their answer in a sentence of their own writing. The content of the essay may be connected with the topic of you last classes (for example, if you are working on peculiarities of translating interviews, your students may have to come up with an interview between two potential opponents discussing a topic)

Types of assessment test questions for critical thinking:

Multiple-choice test questions (taken from Richard Paul with Gerald M. Nosich A Model for the National Assessment of Higher Order Thinking):

  1. In the following excerpt, mark E for each item that is a piece of empirical evidence; mark C for each item that is a conclusion based on evidence; mark N for each item that is neither…
  2. In this test, each exercise consists of several statements (premises) followed by several suggested conclusions…. If you think the conclusion necessarily follows from the statements given, make a heavy black mark under “Conclusion Follows”; if you think it is not a necessary conclusion, put a mark under “Conclusion Does Not Follow.”
  3. The following is a list of possible findings in relation to the experiment quoted above. For each, say whether it would support the author’s hypothesis, oppose the author’s hypothesis, or be neutral with respect to the author’s hypothesis….
  4. Below is a series of questions. Each question is followed by several reasons. For the purpose of this test, you are to regard each reason as true. The problem then is to decide whether it is a strong reason or a weak reason…
  5. Which of the following conclusions is C completely supported by the stated evidence, P partially supported by the stated evidence, or U unsupported by the stated evidence?
  6. Which of the following is an implication of the author’s position in the passage cited?

Multiple-rating items

  1. For each of the underlined passages in the excerpts below, mark P on the answer sheet if it is a statement of the writer’s Purpose, C if it is a statement of the Consequences, A if it is a statement of the writer’s Assumptions, and I if it is an Inference the writer is making.
  2. Which of the following would the author most likely give as the statement of the problem she is attempting to solve?
  3. Read the excerpt; then, from the following list, identify the most plausible statement of the writer’s purpose.
  4. Of the following statements of the author’s point of view in this passage, select the one from the following list that is both most reasonable and most relevant to the passage….
  5. List A below is a list of various possible statements of the writer’s point of view in the quoted passage; List B is a list that includes possible assumptions and implications of those points of view. Match the items on list A with the items on list B…
  6. Each of the following is an inference one might draw from the passage. Rank each one on a scale from 1 to 5, according to whether it is completely justified (5) or completely unjustified (1)…
  7. Which of the following is the most accurate formulation of the author’s inference in the cited passage?
  8. A gives the following argument for…. Which of the listed comments would be the strongest objection to her argument?
  9. Listen to the accompanying excerpt from an audiotape of a lecture by A. Which of the following questions would be of most help in clarifying A’s views?
  10. Here are position-statements from both sides, A and B, of a controversial and inflammatory debate. From list X below, choose those items which state the most reasonable assumptions underlying position A; then choose those items which state the most reasonable assumptions underlying position B.
  11. The following are four definitions from Webster’s New World Dictionary. Which of them gives the clearest definition of…?
  12. Here is a list of data and a series of accounts summarizing the data. Which of the accounts is the most accurate summary of the data?
  13. For each statement below, tell whether it is relevant or irrelevant to the hypothesis in the passage cited.
  14. Which of the following is a good reason for believing the statement in question? Which is a bad reason? Which is somewhere in the middle?

It is possible to use any activity that promotes critical thinking, they do not have to be all connected with translation, although part of them has to be. Set out time for such activities and in a while you will see the results.



  1. Beyer, B. K. (1995). Critical thinking. New York: McGraw Hill.
  2. Carr, K. S. (1990) How Can We Teach Critical Thinking? Eric Digests (selected) (073). Retrieved October 5, 2007 from http://ericae.net/
  3. Cottrell, S. (2005) Critical Thinking Skills. Developing Effective Analysis and Argument. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
  4. Day, R. (July, 2003) Teaching Critical Thinking and Discussion. Retrieved October 13, 2007 from http://ericae.net/
  5. Paul, R.Elder, L. (June 1996) The Analysis & Assessment of Thinking (Helping Students Assess Their Thinking). Retrieved from www.criticalthinking.org
  6. Paul, R with Gerald M. Nosich A Model for the National Assessment of Higher Order Thinking Retrieved January 5, 2011 from http://www.criticalthinking.org/
  7. Starkey, L. (2004) Critical thinking skills success in 20 minutes a day New York: Learning Express.
  8. Tama, M. Carrol (1989) Critical Thinking: Promoting It in the Classroom. Retrieved October 15, 2007 from http://ericae.net/

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